Converting PMS Colors

POSTED BY on May 28, 2014

Have you ever noticed that Creative Suite programs—Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator—convert PMS colors differently from each other and from Pantone Color Bridge? Have you also noticed that although Illustrator and InDesign convert similarly to each other, they do not differentiate coated from uncoated while Photoshop and Pantone Color Bridge do? 

As seen in the example below, the conversions are inconsistent to each other and there is no apparent logic to the variation. The lack of logic makes it next to impossible to know which to use when needing consistency across brand materials. It’s frustrating to say the least.

Since color is subjective, one could surmise that each different conversion is correct — choose which one you like best and be happy. No big deal, right? Well if you’ve ever written brand guidelines, you may have received questions from recipients who are confused while trying to follow those guidelines. They become confused once they notice that the conversions listed don’t match the “proven” conversion they typically use. How do you save your reputation in this instance?

To date, the best solution I have found is to treat the PMS Color Bridge as the starting point, and then test it out by implementing a few marketing components then document the outcome in the brand guidelines. It’s really difficult to maintain a consistent color representation for a brand across various applications. With the absence of a proving ground, the best place to turn for print is the Color Bridge, since it is documented with a “color accurate” printed representation. With regard to screen colors, my instinct would be to trust Photoshop, but my little test (shown above) leads me to believe that might not be good after all. There is also the added complexity of monitors displaying colors differently.

Does anyone out there have a better solution? If so, please share.



Judy Dixon is the VP of Production at Hornall Anderson. You can connect with her at j_dixon@hornallanderson.com.

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Tina Meyer

May 30, 2014 at 4:12pm

When it comes to printing - some PMS colors can be MUCH trickier than others when converting and trying to hit the original shade. Depending on the client, project, etc. I recommend doing a swatch test of the various conversions and we also add in a variety of other build formula's as well so that the client can choose which build they feel "best" represents their brand and you're not subject to screen colors, proofing builds that may not match on press, etc. Taking the time upfront, on their "key stocks" is key to making future projects consistent.


May 29, 2014 at 11:01am

Good god, I feel your pain. If you ever solve this riddle please let me know. In the meantime, Adobe and Pantone need to sort this out.